Dif­fi­cult ques­tions about life and death

Com­pass: Ev­ery Par­ent’s Night­mare 9.30pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Jill Row­botham

SEC­U­LAR view­ers of this heartwrenching doc­u­men­tary about loss and grief may won­der at first why the mother of a young wo­man killed in the July 2005 ter­ror­ist bomb­ings in Lon­don would feel com­pelled to ex­plain why she can­not for­give the per­pe­tra­tors. The twist is that the mother of Jen­nifer Ni­chol­son, Julie, is an Angli­can priest.

Julie, with all her an­guish etched into her fiftysome­thing face, is a ter­rier. She has her teeth in the in­tractable prob­lem of why her faith doesn’t yield some peace and al­though she may be out of an­swers, at least for the time be­ing, she isn’t plan­ning to let go un­til she un­der­takes a sur­vey that may give her more ideas.

Jen­nifer was 24 when she died in a tun­nel near Edg­ware Road sta­tion in Lon­don’s Un­der­ground. She was, her mother re­calls, ‘‘ on the cusp of life’’ and the early footage in this pro­gram demon­strates that fully, with video clips of a laugh­ing, lively girl. She was one of 52 peo­ple who died that day.

Julie seeks out and in­ter­views other par­ents who have faced ter­ri­ble sor­row, in­clud­ing Rosie Wil­son, car­ing for her young daugh­ter Daisy, who has cere­bral palsy, epilepsy, learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, can­not speak and needs 24- hour care. An­other, Alan, lost his adult daugh­ter Char­lotte in Thai­land in the 2004 Box­ing Day tsunami.

Julie is res­o­lute in her de­ter­mi­na­tion to pose hard ques­tions to them all and mines a gem from each. Alan con­cludes Char­lotte was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He found no an­swers in Chris­tian­ity but, pos­si­bly be­cause of the Thai con­nec­tion, has felt drawn to Bud­dhism. He has planted a gar­den in the lo­cal Bud­dhist monastery where he goes to sit. He prefers to imag­ine his daugh­ter in some other di­men­sion than to think she ‘‘ is no more’’.

Rosie recog­nises that liv­ing with Daisy’s dis­abil­ity in­volves a ‘‘ curious kind of griev­ing’’ for the child ‘‘ she might have been’’ but is un­equiv­o­cal about the rich­ness of life lived with her, just as she is. ‘‘ I know Daisy is our bit of God,’’ Rosie says. ‘‘ What­ever God is, it’s in Daisy.’’ All the in­ter­views are pow­er­ful, but this is the one that leaves the priest who has seen ev­ery­thing wide- eyed with won­der.

As the pro­gram pro­gresses, sus­pi­cion eases that this is some­how a per­verse self- in­dul­gence for a mother who has found a way to pro­long her daugh­ter’s pres­ence through re­liv­ing and ob­sess­ing about her loss. It adds up to some­thing worth­while.

Julie has re­signed as vicar of St Aidan’s in Bris­tol. She is work­ing with young peo­ple, drawn to the same qual­i­ties she adored in her daugh­ter: vi­tal­ity and pas­sion.

Find­ing some­thing worth­while in her loss: Julie Ni­chol­son

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